Jackson Carlaw has resigned as the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.
In a statement he said he had reached the “simple if painful conclusion”, that he is not “the person best placed” to lead the party into the 2021 Holyrood elections.
It comes just hours after he clashed with Nicola Sturgeon in a heated First Minsiter’s Questions.
Mr Carlaw, MSP for Eastwood, was elected as leader in February, having held the post on an acting basis since the resignation of Ruth Davidson in August 2019.
“Over the summer I have had the chance to think hard about my role as leader of the Scottish Conservatives,” he said in a statement.
“Nothing is more important to me than making the case for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
“I believe the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party is the most important voice in Scotland for setting out that positive argument. I am clear that nothing must get in the way of doing so.
“In the last few weeks, I have reached a simple if painful conclusion – that I am not, in the present circumstances, the person best placed to lead that case over these next vital months in Scottish politics prior to the Holyrood elections.
“Given the importance I attach to the job, I’ve therefore decided to stand down with immediate effect.”
Mr Carlaw said that is was “not an easy call” but that he had spent “a lifetime in politics holding to the maxim that party and country comes first.”
He added: “I believe I am doing my duty by holding to that view now.
“I simply believe that a new leader will be able, as we recover from the COVID emergency, to make the case for the Scottish Conservatives and the Union better than me. That is all that matters.
“I leave the job with genuine pride at my time in office, both as interim leader and as leader for the last year.
“I especially enjoyed the eight years as deputy leader and being an integral part of the success achieved.
“Managing the transition from Ruth Davidson’s leadership to a refreshed party has been a challenging task but I feel confident that I leave the role with the party in good heart and, crucially, with time to elect a new leader so he or she can prepare for the elections next year.
“The Scottish Conservatives will fight those elections as we have always done – as the one party that will unequivocally speak up for all those Scots who do not want to go back to more division, but instead want our country to move on, as part of the United Kingdom, able to rise to the challenges of the future.
“I will fight that cause hard for these next few vital months as a loyal member of my party.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to Mr Carlaw’s leadership, saying: “Jackson Carlaw has been a tremendous servant to the Scottish Conservative Party for more than four decades.
“As an activist, deputy chairman, deputy leader and leader, he has given his all and deserves our thanks for his efforts.
“It is a mark of his commitment to the cause that he chooses to stand aside at this time and I offer my best wishes to him, Wynne and the family.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “I wish Jackson Carlaw all the best. We’ve crossed swords politically on many occasions, but worked constructively on some issues too – he has, eg, been a strong voice for women suffering mesh complications. Leadership is a tough business and I’m sure his decision wasn’t easy.”
Jackson Carlaw is a Unionist to the core. It is in his bones, he passionately believes in it.
If he has come to conclusion that he cannot make the best case for Scotland remaining in the UK then noone can.
Independence is coming people. Even more important we stay focussed!
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) July 30, 2020
In tense exchanges over the politicisation of the pandemic after a statement at Holyrood on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon was challenged by Mr Carlaw over the selling of SNP branded face coverings.
In a row over the efficacy of statistics used by the First Minister, Mr Carlaw said: “I think the First Minister has to be very careful when she talks about playing politics, when she as the leader and the chief executive of her party profiteer from coronavirus by producing party political face masks to raise funds for the SNP.”
In response, the First Minister said: “I will continue to do everything to persuade people to wear face coverings and in terms of my party, every penny of profit made will go to charity, actually.”